A homemade flag Lanphier High School students carried to the Statehouse in 1970 as a symbol of the environmental movement found a permanent home in the Smithsonian Institution. But a mystery remains: who sewed the flag?
Smithsonian Magazine revived the story of the Lanphier flag in April 2020 as part of the publication’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
The flag got its start in the classroom of LHS science teacher Ray Bruzan, who, as Smithsonian reported, turned Room 308 into the school’s “Environmental Action Center” during the 1969-70 school year.
On the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, dozens of Lanphier students marched behind the flag to the Statehouse, picking up litter as they went, to highlight the need for environmental reform. At the Capitol, they turned in petitions to Lt. Gov. Paul Simon (acting governor for the day) calling for action on environmental problems.
The flag, 61 by 36.5 inches, carries green stripes, a symbol of a clean earth; white stripes, symbolizing clean air; and the Greek letter theta, suggesting death. The design was based on one created by Ron Cobb, cartoonist for the Los Angeles Free Press.
Bruzan kept the flag in his classroom for the next two decades. As the 25th anniversary of that first Earth Day approached, however, he learned that the Smithsonian was looking for artifacts from the 1970 observance. Bruzan contacted the museum.
“I told them we did Earth Day in a big way here,” he told State Journal-Register reporter Mike Matulis in 1994. Museum officials were receptive. Lanphier’s flag became part of the Smithsonian’s 25th anniversary exhibit about Earth Day and remains in the Smithsonian’s permanent collection.
Bruzan had only one regret: The mother of one of his 1969-70 students had sewed the flag, but 200-some students had passed through his classroom 24 years earlier; by 1994, Bruzan no longer remembered who the seamstress was.
“I remember I was so thrilled to get the flag that I wrote a thank-you note to the parent, but I forget who it was,” Bruzan told Matulis. “I’d be thrilled to find out because I’d like to send that name into the Smithsonian with the flag.”
The woman never has been identified.
Bruzan and his wife Pam traveled to Washington, D.C., in 1995 to view the anniversary exhibit, including the Lanphier flag. Pam Bruzan, who was a reporter for the Illinois State Register in 1970, took several color snapshots of the students’ march that also were used in the Smithsonian display. One of those photos (above) was used in Smithsonian Magazine’s online article about the 50th anniversary in 2020.
Bruzan retired from the Springfield School District following the 2000-01 school year. Among other honors during his 42-year school career, Bruzan was named the district’s Educator of the Year in 1990, Illinois’ Environmental Teacher of the Year in 1975, and an Outstanding Teacher by the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in 1988-89.
In retirement, Ray and Pam Bruzan have focused on the history of Rochester, Illinois, their home. Among their publications have been Cotton, Violins and Shots in the Night (2015), two updates of the 1918 Orange Judd Farmer Pictorial Community Album of Rochester Township and Village, and a series of Rochester-related children’s books: The Ghost Train of Lost Bridge Trail, The Ghost Trolley of Rockychester, and The Violinist of Rockychester.
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Fascinating story! Yay Bruzans for your role in this historic event!
Melinda – Thank you for your kind words.
Mr Bruzan was an amazing teacher ! Sure hope we find the seamstress of the Flag!!
David Hood is the student on the left
Thank you Pam.
Susan – a link to the Smithsonian article may be found with the following google search: Raymond Bruzan, Ecology Flag, Smithsonian
I remember this flag and I remember you very fondly Mr. Bruzan. Your passion was evident each day as you poured your heart and soul into teaching us. The energy you brought into the classroom was infectious and certainly made chemistry my favorite subject. Thank you for being a positive influence in my life and I’m sure many others! – Jason Vaughn, class of 1995
Hi Jason, I certainly do remember you. You were among the top chemistry students I had the privilege to teach.
Thank you for the kind words. I was indeed lucky to have you in my chemistry classes.
I hope you and family are safe and well during this difficult period in the history of our country.
I was there. Thank you Mr. Bruzan
Thank you for reaching out to me. I have very few names (4)of students who were in the 1970 LHS Earth Day march. Thank you for playing a part in the
historic first Earth Day that in many ways changed the lives of many people.
I hope you and your family stay well.
Great teacher. Great kids. Great school. Happy to see some positive publicity.
Hi Mr Bruzan,
David Hood is on the left of the flag. The woman underneath the flag is Elizabeth Rivenburg, Rex Tannahill and Jeff Meyer in the background are several that I recognize. All four were class of ‘73. What an incredible story and amazing vision you had at the time!
Jan Brooks Walker
It is still amazing to me that an activity of LHS students is now part of the permanent collection of historic artifacts at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
Thank you for your kind words.
Great to hear from you.